Participant Quotes and Key Insights Regarding Rumor Management From Interviews on Organizational Response to Rumors During the 2014–2016 Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone

ThemeQuotationKey Insights
Use of multiple approaches and channelsI think what is important is having a combination of all these channels so that you’re sure you're reaching people even the remotest areas of the country. So although you know committee meetings are better because you can have conversations, people can ask questions, and you respond but in terms of creating awareness and making sure you reach as many people as possible, I think a combination of all these channels was quite important. Because there’s also posters that are put out there, so for those that way are able to read in order to get that information and based on what they've seen on posters, for example, they, during committee meetings, they could go ask more questions or based on what they would have heard on the radio, when they come face-to-face with a health worker, they have an opportunity to ask questions. —International staff, Sierra LeoneImportance of using multiple complementary channels to disseminate information
Community Led Ebola ActionYou have the community champions. You have those to follow up so they were also used because the mobilizers during those triggering were able to listen to the communities to get the community perspective about how they could also protect themselves and keep themselves safe because honestly speaking I think most times we think the communities do not have … a scientific explanation to how they are able to prevent or protect themselves against diseases like Ebola and that. But if you engage the communities, really and you sit with them you discuss then you realize that they also have some explanations and some ideas on how they would be able to do it and that meets scientific standards. —Local staff, Sierra LeoneCommunities are capable of developing their own solutions that meet scientific standards
People … were resisting because of the PPE (personal protective equipment people are putting on. … During the community engagement we had a session where you have community [members] who were actually encouraged to wear PPE …. You have Community leaders all using the ambulance and … so people were going to the ambulance so that the community that we serve will see that's okay. ‘Okay, my fear was able to actually go into the ambulance and nothing happened.’ So it means though that was able to kind of demystify some of the myths around the use of ambulance and the PPE that people were afraid that were leading to some of … [that] resistance. —Local staff, Sierra LeoneDemystifying situations or objects that cause fear can help reduce rumors.
Community Led Total Sanitation Adaptation[It] was a like a way of bringing community members together in groups and addressing like their fear and their perceptions and their experiences and stories they'd heard and all those kind of like listening to all of that and then giving them the actual information and kind of addressing directly those, you know, maybe misconceptions that they had or clarifying if they were correct ones and then helping them to figure out what they need to do. —International staff, LiberiaIt is important to listen to community questions and feedback, gather appropriate information, and communicate back with the community to close the loop.
Drama performanceWe didn't just go and perform but we created a stage that will reduce the number of rumor because people ask questions that they feel somebody told them, and we wrote those questions down and we communicate[d] their back with our sponsor, like UNICEF, right … and they will send the real information. —Local staff, Liberia
Ebola Treatment Center/Unit-based approachesBut I suppose the nice thing was that we had really great relationships with the Ebola Treatment Center staff and they were there, you know every day, so you had time to like just sit and shoot the sh** with them and if they were like ‘this is what I'm hearing,’ then you had time and space to just be like, ‘okay, let's talk about why the, you know, physiology of Ebola isn't actually related to, you know, kind of airborne spread like, so let's kind of talk about that. So kind of trying to defeat those rumors on a very one-to-one personal kind of basis. —International staff, Sierra LeoneThe Ebola Treatment Center / Ebola Treatment Unit was a useful setting for information sharing and addressing rumors.
We started this whole training curriculum where you know, they [local staff] … would take responsibility and sign up for topics and then go research it and then teach their peers about that particular topic, and then we included the foreign staff and stuff, and, and tracked it. So we treated it like, almost like an education degree that was informal. … The nursing team also started a weekly radio show where they had like call in questions … The local … Ebola Treatment Unit team, that was a way that they wanted to be available to answer questions. It was so cool. They did, I remember, they did … topics at different times, like one was about fever, and then they would talk about Tylenol, and talk about what a fever is doing for someone's body, and it was linked to [the] … curriculum that we set up with our foreign nursing staff. —International staff, Liberia
RadioI think in terms of addressing rumors, the best way was usually through interactive programs. So whether you have an interactive program on radio, TV, or at a community level, programs where people can ask questions and answers are provided. I think those were the best in terms of addressing rumors, because sometimes the rumor is spread about a particular issue and then you respond with a messaging without getting to hear from the people who are spreading the rumors, but I think the best ones always platforms that give people an opportunity to ask questions and get responses. —International staff, Sierra LeoneInteractive radio programs were perceived to be the most effective.
Radio dramas that were that were done at that time trying to remember the name of it. Mr. Plan-Plan or something like that, but there were you know some radio dramas and radio programming that were that were broadcast that would touch on addressing some of those some of those rumors. There were the journalist trainings. So to make sure that, you know, journalists were reporting more accurately. So there are a couple other things that that were being done at that time as well that, you know, would help to provide more accurate information, which would hopefully then reduce the number of rumors … And you know, maybe one thing to add is that you know, I think there was a real sense of wanting to be very careful about not repeating the rumor. So, you know by addressing the rumor you're really kind of just accelerating that accurate information rather than repeating the rumor in a way that's you're telling people that it's not true. So that's something that you know where people were really careful not to do. Because I didn't want to exacerbate that that rumor. —International staff, Sierra Leone and LiberiaJournalist training can help prevent rumors by increasing accuracy of media reports.
Centrally approved messagingIt was the kind of feeding up from the ground and then feeding back down. Kind of changing up the message guides like every couple of weeks or every month to ensure that they had. That they were kind of addressing the most current rumors. —International staff, Sierra LeoneMessaging was centrally approved in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
So if the information came from Central Ministry because Central Ministry is responsible to do the IEC/BCC (information education communication/behavior change communication) had been approved. So if that was done, it came down to the county, from the county to the district, and then to your community that needed the information. —Local staff, Liberia
Ineffective messagingBut at first, it was just like, it kill[s] you, you will die. It will kill you. But later on now the message change[d] … On the message side we change that, look, when you have this, you can get to the treatment center. You'll be treated and you can survive. People became relaxed. But during the early stages a lot of people ran away. —Local staff, LiberiaIt is important to consider potential unintended effects of messaging.
Community entry strategiesIf you just show up with you know and have, you know, PPEs you know with chlorine sprayers and start giving messages, if you're lucky, the best thing … is they won't listen to you. The other thing is … run you out of the village. —International staff, LiberiaCommunity entry is a sensitive process that needs to be done carefully and in a culturally appropriate way.
If you go to a village that you know is infested, you call the Elder, like the Big Chief. Have him call his people because there were no mobile phones in order to make an appointment … Having called the elders, called the people, and tell them look we're coming back the next day because we're doing it from town to town. Like we spend a whole week out of town because you actually make appointments. Like, look we coming back tomorrow, Saturday at 4 o'clock. Let other people be here. We got a bundle of good news for you. —Local staff, Liberia
In some of the chiefdoms that we worked in, the paramount chiefs were very well respected, and they were sort of the purveyors of a lot of trust, and a lot of trying to you know, if you wanted access to the community you had to go through them. I know that there were some communities that we worked in or that we worked with that was the opposite, is that the Paramount Chief was not seen as being legitimate. It was somebody who was put in place because they were, you know, somebody's father or brother or connected somebody who is already powerful, and so the community actually didn't trust them. —International staff, Sierra LeoneEntry strategies vary, so it is important to gain an understanding of the community leadership structure before entering.
Community leaders as information sourceYou have to go you have to drill down deeper and find out who in each community is already an accepted source of information and whether they are knowledgeable about the issue, whether it's Ebola or an earthquake or whatever … All communities have some natural leaders. Some of them are either formally appointed like the village Chief or Council of some kind or you have just individuals who are recognized by other members of the community as having skills of organizing people of putting together trainings or those kind of things. —International staff, LiberiaCommunities may be more likely to accept information from a trusted source in the community rather than from an outsider.
And if there is any new information you share with people … so that it comes from the trusted source first. Otherwise, if you try to counter it, it's difficult. With misinformation, you just continue to provide accurate information. Probably through trusted channels in the community. So like religious leaders, traditional leaders, and mobilizers who are residing in the communities … You may be able to use those people to provide information to the populace regarding rumors. —Local staff, Sierra Leone
Organizational changeOne of the things that was changed in the short time I was there, was the opening the possibility for the family to see the people inside the treatment center, with quite a distance but being able to communicate with them. And the other thing that was, I think, quite important was also … opening the possibility in the treatment center, to see the dead body from the distance. —International staff, Liberia and Sierra LeoneIncreasing family’s ability to communicate and see their loved ones in the Ebola Treatment Center / Ebola Treatment Unit increased trust and reduced rumors.
I do think actually the changes that were made at the treatment centers to increase a patient's ability, family's ability to see the patients I think that that has a huge impact, on trust and rumors, I think in a lot of ways probably more so than communication. —International staff, Liberia 
The burial team … [was] hearing rumors about how you know, the body bags that they were using were, you know, the bodies weren't in it. They were taking the bodies out. I think again there were rumors around harvesting organs and other things. And that … that they were filling those bags up with rocks. And so what [organization] did was they … [made] part of the body bags … a see-through screen basically so that you could at least see the face of the body. —International staff, Liberia and Sierra LeoneIncreasing transparency, where possible, may reduce rumors.
Traditional beliefsStrong support of traditional beliefs and the fact that there was a really strong tradition in the spirit world allowed for alternative explanations for what was happening [that] did not involve germ theory. And trying to convince a population that doesn't have a high scientific background, that viruses exist and that this is how you pass the virus from one person to another. And … just not realizing viruses exist but that they can kill people, and that your traditional, really important practices of your community like making sure people are buried properly and taking care of loved ones in the home, are putting you and your family at risk too. I think that the biggest issue with the sustained rumor was lack of scientific education combined with strong traditional beliefs that provided a really solid counter-narrative to what was going on. —International staff, Sierra LeoneAlthough traditional beliefs may lead to a rejection of the biomedical explanation of disease, it is possible to accept these beliefs and incorporate them into behavior change communication.
We have a discussion with stakeholders. And then we explain to them that what they are calling voodoo, medically we call it an illness. It can be carried by illness. So we educate them. At times we tell them that, ‘okay, the names are different.’ We tell them for example, if we're talking to religious leaders, we tell them … ‘there are many names people call God. So that's the same medically there are many ways what you call witchcraft is what we call a sickness. So this sickness we need to … investigate it and tell you what the exact sickness is and then we can give medication and the person will be okay.’ For example, when we had the outbreak here in my own community, they said … a witchcraft plane had a crashed. So as a result many people were dying. So we accepted the fact. We told them ‘okay, yes what you call a plane crash is what we call medically Ebola.’ So it's like we buy the idea so that they can accept us and there we have a deal where we explain to them. We give them the right information. That's when we will have an agreement and then they will listen to us and then we work as a team because [for] community infection you need community intervention so that at the end of the day you are able to achieve your aims. —Local staff, Sierra Leone
Addressing rumors with element of truthI would default to saying that it's unhelpful to reject or disagree with those narratives that people are making money in the response because it is true. And if they're rejected, if the response given to those individuals is, "No, no, like, you know, it's nothing to do with that. That's not why we're here and you're wrong," then I think it makes it a lot more difficult to convey and convince them of other … It doesn't present yourself as a trustworthy source of information. I suppose is the best way to put it. —International staff, Sierra LeoneWhen rumors have an element of truth, it is best to acknowledge it.
I mean, chlorine's a corrosive gas, like it's real … and they used it … And in fact the new guidelines for spraying of chlorine, do not include spraying because aerosolized chlorine (A) does not actually kill the virus, and (B) it gets it into your lungs and it can cause some pretty harmful effects on the lungs, especially for people who've been working in treatment centers or on decontamination teams, whatever and they're constantly inhaling the sh** … A lot of people would say ‘oh, we don't like the chlorine’ and I'd be like, ‘well, this is the protocol.’ And I think the logic that I had at the time was you're more likely to die of Ebola than you are chlorine poisoning. Or like, you know, it's a long-term impact. What we're trying to do is stop you from dying today. —International staff, Sierra Leone